Category Archives: Movies

THE COLOR WHEEL – a dark, yet brief moment

Indie artsy films where unlikable people never shut the fuck up is commonplace in a movie community teeming with film students armed with HD cameras and MacBook Pros. It takes a magic ingredient to be the standout, watchable experience.

Alex Ross Perry’s THE COLOR WHEEL should blog the recipe.

The film centers around JR, an actress with hopes of being a weather girl for a major market, and her brother Colin who has been solicited to take a short road trip from New York to Vermont to help her move out of the house of the professor-boyfriend that just dumped her.

JR is annoying. Nobody in the family can stand her. Colin is weird and can’t shut up. And in the end, they’re the only people that can tolerate each other in a world full of losers.

JR and Colin
Colin (played by Alex Ross Perry) and JR (played by Carlen Altman)

THE COLOR WHEEL marks the second time Perry teamed with cinematographer Sean Price Williams to unearth a 16mm film camera for his 2011 sophomore effort. But it isn’t just the grainy, soft, fuzzy (and totally not 1080p) look that sets it apart from other mumblers.

Nor is it simply the appreciated descent from art film sternness to goofball humor, which is sometimes delivered in a dumpy dad way. Although when the jokes stick, it’s hilarious. For instance, the scene where a millennial party goer, confined to a wheelchair due to polio, gives applause by pedaling back and forth on the carpet.

From the second we meet the brother and sister, we cannot stop watching them despite our dislike for them.

Why are we pulled? Not sure. Perry can’t put his finger on it, either: “I’ve still not been able to articulate what it is that I find attractive about someone who is ostensibly unlikeable. It’s just the part of their lives that I want to find them in is the point at which they are really at an ebb.”

“It’s not that they’re bad people,” Perry continues. “When someone’s really hurting, and they’re really doing everything they can to really just push away everyone who’s trying to help them. That’s just a phase.”

Colin and JR in a Diner

The film doubles down on the awkward when we see JR and Colin having to interact with others instead of just each other, ultimately building to the most satisfying ending I’ve seen in recent viewing.

THE COLOR WHEEL may be a movie for hardcore cinephiles; after all, most people don’t even like black and white movies let alone outdated 16mm. And maybe with unlimited streaming options, a movie watcher shouldn’t have to bear takes of young actors fumbling over their lines. Perry’s flaw is that he makes art house movies in a time where art houses don’t exist—where the living room is the theater of choice.

But cinephiles will be understanding of the long error filled takes, the moments of precious time printed to actual film. Knowledgeable viewers will note that the actor playing Colin memorizes his pages of closing dialogue better than the actress he’s opposite of because Colin is played by Perry, the writer and director.

I’m personally thankful for discovering Perry’s movies, having heard him on an episode of The Bret Easton Ellis podcast, where Ellis praises Perry for going against relatability in a time where audiences demand likability from characters.

These days, watching movies can be kind of a lonely and quiet experience. We writhe with Perry’s characters, and in the final moments, our hearts race with anticipation and thump with payoff as we, like the downward transcending siblings rim lit by headlights, grasp to whatever we have left in this existence.

And then, “Is That Loving In Your Heart” by the Lovelites plays as the credits roll at the end of a dark, yet brief moment in time.

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“The Babadook” is so close to being great it’s scary

BABADOOK-Book

“The Babadook” was one of the most talked about horror movies of 2014. The film has a Metascore of 86 and a Rotten Tomatoes fresh rating of 98%. But for me, like a sprinter prematurely celebrating meters before the finish line as he is overtaken by another runner, it fell short of excellence at the end.

Although I feel “The Babadook” was a strong film—not just a fine horror film, but quite a dramatic achievement—I found myself underwhelmed as the credits rolled. Screenrant said, “While ‘The Babadook’ is a well-crafted, insightful, and overall excellent film, it’s not going to be for everyone.” I think this movie would be “for everyone” if it not for the lame reveal and conclusion.

“The Babadook” is the directorial debut of Australian actress-turned-filmmaker Jennifer Kent. The story follows Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis), a grieving mother to a problem child Samuel (Noah Wiseman) as she copes with the loss of her husband, who died in a car accident driving her to the hospital to deliver their son. Their troubles multiply when they find a strange children’s book about a man named Mister Babadook. For the Vannick family, Mister Babadook is more than just a children’s story.

But what the movie is really about, and where it excels in its storytelling, is grief. It is well crafted with multiple layers of meaning. Mister Babadook merely is a physical stand-in for the pain of loss and the coping with grief. And as Sam reiterates, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” Indeed, you cannot get rid of loss; cannot permanently do away with grief.

BABADOOK-Ameilia and Sam at Table

The film’s lead role and one of its biggest achievements is Essie Davis. Davis is transformative as Amelia Vannick. It’s a phenomenal performance by a gifted actor in the hands of an actor’s director (Kent was an actress for two decades, even graduating alongside Davis). She weaves in and out of drastic emotions: exhaustion, hopelessness, groveling, embarrassment, eventually psychosis, and then rage like I haven’t seen in recent cinema. I say this without any sexism: Davis’ outbursts are stronger than any male counterpart’s.

BABDOOK-Scream

Kent cites “The Shining” as inspiration. This is most prevalent in Davis’ Jack Torrance-like transformation from a flawed but always trying to be a good parent to an extremely aggressive threat to her own child.

Screenrant said, “Where other horror films cast mother figures as strident protectors, Amelia is far less heroic (at times) and, for that reason, significantly more relatable—placing the audience inside a haunted home where the horror isn’t always black and white.”

BABADOOK-Closet

Kent is an admirable storyteller with a unique understanding of the craft, as both actress and filmmaker. Upon graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1991, she worked primarily as an actor for two decades. But towards the end of the 90s, she was losing her passion for acting and reached out to Danish director Lars von Trier, who then gave her a job assisting on the set of “Dogville” (2003). Wikipedia states, “she considers the experience her film school, citing the importance of stubbornness as the key lesson she learned.”

Kent weaves an impressively complex, honest story. At no moment did anything ring untrue to me—and we’re talking about a supernatural monster movie. But then again, we’re not. Because the monsters and the horror elements of “The Babadook” are not other worldly, they’re deeply rooted in the human condition. The monster is grief, the pain is loss, and the decisions are driven by a need to cope with loss and grief.

Kent said that she sought to tell a story about facing up to the darkness within ourselves, the “fear of going mad” and an exploration of parenting from a “real perspective”. In regard to parenting, Kent further explained, “Now, I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.”

I’m not a woman, I’m not a mother, and I’ve never wanted to kill my son. But I get, without any sense of morbid irony, why Amelia could contemplate stabbing her son to death. He is difficult, he is problematic, and he does not make her life any easier. The love of her life, the father of her child, is killed driving her to the hospital to deliver the boy. That scenario alone brings up a very tough question with a simple answer. Can a mother feel resentment towards her child because her husband is killed in the process of bringing the boy into the world? Simply, yes. She can. That is a perfectly acceptable emotion to feel in that situation. Kent’s dedication to honest portrayals of taboo subjects is inspiring.

Kent’s storytelling honesty is rightfully heralded. Tim Teeman at The Daily Beast states that the film informs the audience that grief has its place and the best that humans can do is “marshal it”. Egyptian national film critic Wael Khairy concluded that the film is “based on something very real” and “feels unusually beautiful and even therapeutic.”

“The Babadook” is shot by Radek Ladczuk with an Arri Alexa and Zeiss Master Prime lenses in 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio. According to Wikipedia, “The film’s final color scheme was achieved without the use of gels on the camera lenses or any alterations during the post-filming stage.”

In a monster movie, genre fans want to see an interesting visual creature. Kent insisted on a low-fi and handmade approach to Mister Babadook.  They favored practical elements, using stop-motion effects for the monster with a large amount of smoothening completed in post-production.

Kent explained to the Empire publication: “There’s been some criticism of the lo-fi approach of the effects, and that makes me laugh because it was always intentional. I wanted the film to be all in camera.”

Kent’s minimalistic portrayal of the Babadook monster might be a wet dream for certain horror fans, but in my personal opinion, I hated it. I wanted more. I’m not someone who needs over stimulation or constant full frontal monster imagery. “Jaws” and “Alien” are more frightening for their forced restraint. But Kent does such an expert job of building suspense, what with the beautiful art in the children’s book, the half-second inserts of the monster in the background, that it demanded some sort of substantial reveal. There is a reveal, I just didn’t like it. When we were meant to climax, we were forcefully restrained. Who likes that?

Kent’s impressive eye for visual storytelling is displayed by Amelia’s moments of slumber. A very early Hitchcock image where she floats down onto the bed is at once dreamy and nightmarish. Later, sleep is no longer a fantastical elaborate camera move but a static image. Through Amelia’s insomnia, we see her barely coherent, almost comatose as she watches television all night. I can feel how tired she is. I’ve been there. It’s a feeling of mental instability. Lack of sleep is real life, real pain, and everyday torture. It’s a major subplot for Amelia’s character.

Kent’s direction and Davis’ performance are flawless from scene to scene on just what a woman would really feel at varying stages of insomnia: at moments she has frustrated outbursts of rage and other times she is in a sort of loopy bliss when she nods off despite her son asking her to make him something to eat. I feel the pain and I feel the bliss of giving up.

On an aside, I was impressed with the design on the character’s hairdos by the hair and makeup department. Early shots of Amelia show her hair unkempt and staticy. So is her son’s. She looks tired and not put together. Later, at her niece’s birthday party, we see a group of mothers the same age as the tired Amelia, but they all look impeccable, well rested, happy, and thematically significant, they have great hair perfectly in place.

My biggest problem with the movie, aside from the monster reveal, is the resolution. I find it pretentious, too on-the-nose, and anti-climactic for a movie that brilliantly builds towards a reveal. The pacing is flawless. The attention to craft and mood is expert. But I find the final series of “monster point-of-view” shots of Amelia literally feeding the beast locked away in her basement (see why I say it’s pretentious?) rather dull. In fact, when the screen cuts to black after a way-too-nostalgic resolution shot of Amelia hugging tight to her problem child, I found myself infuriated as I awaited the first credit title card to confirm my suspicions that yep, that’s it.

Syvology on the MIshka NYC Bloglin said the film’s ending reminds the viewer that such matters continually exists in the “basement” of the unconscious and are “dealt with as-needed.” The “basement of the unconscious” being represented by an actual basement is as subtle as a drunk pervert.

But I digress because certainly I’m bitching about an overall good movie. I recently praised “It Follows” for its personal horror and emotionally fused story. “The Babadook” does this even more masterfully I think. But, “It Follows” had a better ending with its hokey booby trap at the pool hall.

My feelings for “The Babadook” are mostly positive and focused on the craftsmanship of a character driven horror story. But I didn’t “love” the movie. My demand for a big reveal, a real scary moment at the end, is lowbrow. But I stick to it.

I’m a filmmaker so I analyze movies more than most. I can’t always sit back and enjoy a movie the way I did growing up, when I loved whatever my mom took me to see at the Franklin Mills theatre across the street.

“The Babadook” had me gripped and waiting for the payoff the way I used to as a kid in a matinee showing, sitting in the dark and sharing a small popcorn with my mom. I eagerly waited for an inspired closer. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it. Despite all of my appreciation for the craftsmanship, I was still that kid in the movie theatre, a little older, as the credits rolled and the lights went up. I looked over to my mom and asked, “what did you think?” And she shrugged her shoulders and said “it was okay.”

The Babadook

‘It Follows’ Review: Best New Horror Movie in Years

IT FOLLOWS-Jay in Car

It Follows” is technically a 2014 movie, but with its wide theatrical release this past weekend (seeing even popular festival movies in my local non-NYC/LA theatre is getting rarer and rarer), it is currently my reigning favorite of 2015.

David Robert Mitchell’s sophomore effort, “It Follows” is an anxious, nightmare logic horror film about Jay Heights (played by the lovely and talented Maika Monroe from Adam Wingard’s The Guest and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring) doing the deed with an older boy and now, uh-oh, she’s cursed. Mitchell’s movie is not merely about a girl labeled as a “slut” but as someone actually cursed by having sex, someone who is now being stalked by her deed in the form of an amorphous monster that can take the shape of anyone—strangers, or even people she loves. This boogey man stalks her from a distance, approaching slowly at a walk, hoping to grab hold of her and kill her off once and for all.

“It Follows” touches on the anxieties of many virgin (or not quite virgin) teenagers fixing to do the deed, as Nic Cage in “Peggy Sue Got Married” would say, “What, you mean sex? Ha ha, intercourse. You wanna have intercourse?”. Mitchell harnesses this anxiety wonderfully into an expertly crafted genre picture that is nostalgic of movies from the 1970s/1980s (for me, it touches the same nerve as the original “Nightmare on Elm Street”).

IT FOLLOWS-Mirror WS

“It Follows” looks great. Shot on the Arri Alexa and Red Epic, Director of Photography Mike Gioulakis (“John Dies at the End”) creates a cold, eerie world ripe with pretty colors and people in desolate Detroit.

As Variety put it, “As Mitchell explained at the pic’s premiere in Cannes, ‘It Follows’ marks his attempt to make a ‘beautiful horror movie’ — equal parts gentle and aggressive.  At times, his meticulous compositions rival Gregory Crewdson’s ethereal suburban-gothic photographs.”

Untitled from Beneath the Roses (2003–2005) Gregory Crewdson
Untitled from Beneath the Roses (2003–2005) Gregory Crewdson

A friend of mine commented that “It Follows” reminded him of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 proof-in-digital-filmmaking-excellence “Drive”. I was a little thrown off by this. It took reading Mitchell’s quote on a “beautiful horror movie” to understand the “Drive” reference. Just as “Drive” was a beautifully violent movie, “It Follows” is a beautifully eerie movie.

The movie starts off with a 360-degree camera pan around a Detroit suburban street as a teenager runs out of her house in her pajamas (and high heels), seemingly fleeing for her life from a presence we (and her neighbor) cannot see. The actress does a wonderful job of registering the fear in one frame, then backpedaling when she realizes nobody can see her assailant, playing it off, running back inside, and returning to speed off in the family car.

Filmmaker Magazine on the 360-degree shot: “Unlike dopamine-inducing mood enhancers, the opening sequence of unique hybrid ‘It Follows’ aims for atmosphere, not climax…It is cinematic foreplay, simultaneously tease and microcosm. Over the span of several minutes, David Robert Mitchell succinctly anticipates not only the plotline of the narrative, but also its themes and infrastructure.”

As an avid fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights”, I’ve always loved the 360-degree pan. Anderson’s scripted circular shot around Eddie Adams’ bedroom early in the film is both evocative and appropriate. Like the opening of “It Follows”, Eddie’s wall posters of bikini babes and muscles cars, his massive dong squeezed into a tight pair of undies, his practicing kung fu moves in the mirror; all these elements “anticipate not only the plotline of the narrative, but also its themes and infrastructure.”

A similar nod to Anderson would be the use of an extreme close-up of Jay in a hospital bed. There are not many close-ups in “It Follows”. In fact, mostly wide angle Cooke S4 lenses are used for the film’s entirety. Paired with the 2.35 : 1 wide screen aspect ratio, we are constantly looking over the character’s shoulder for the spooky “It”. So when we do get a close-up, it packs a punch. The ECU of Jay’s bloody bandage, with its fine focus and heavy falloff, is reminiscent of “Boogie Nights” many close-ups, shot with anamorphic zoom lenses.

IT FOLLOWS-Head Wound INSERT
“It Follows” Extreme Closeup
boogie_nights_-_close-ups_objects_etc_1-1
“Boogie Nights” Extreme Closeup

The movie’s beauty is chiefly displayed when Jay has sex with Hugh in the back of his car in an abandoned lot. The shot is used prominently in the trailer and was the main image I remembered other than Maika Monroe in her pink bra strapped to a wheelchair.

IT FOLLOWS-Car

Variety said, “If ‘Myth (of the American Sleepover)’was his John Hughes homage, then ‘It Follows’ is the director’s best stab at doing John Carpenter.” The parallel to John Hughes is interesting and isn’t lost on “It Follows”. Particularly, in his regard to sex and how he treats the teenage, sometimes goofy choices of his characters with the utmost respect.

Filmmaker Magazine had an interesting look on the sex scenes: “Her (Jay) enervating encounter with Hugh and Greg’s comforting presence are catalysts for sparks of desire, with Jay at the apex of a triangle including both Greg and Paul. Atypically for teen flicks, sex among the trio is fairly pleasure-free, especially for Jay, who performs like the cold wife in I-have-a-headache jokes.”

IT FOLLOWS-Front Lawn

Sex is never really shown for pleasure’s sake, which actually makes the sex scenes some of the most interesting to date. Whether it’s Jay riding Hugh in the backseat of his car moments before being chloroformed, Greg eagerly pumping Jay in her hospital bed under the guise of wanting to understand what she’s seeing (a very clever take on the lengths men will go through to get laid), Paul’s awkward attempts to capitalize on bedding Jay finally being fulfilled towards the end of the film, or the intense sequence where Jay strips and paddles out into the water towards a boat full of men, presumably to pass the curse off to one or all of the men aboard.

The sex serves a purpose to Jay that is not pleasure. It aids the plot, so that we’re not merely watching teens bone for the hell of it. As Desiree Akhavan (“Appropriate Behavior”) put it, “To me, the best sex scenes are not about sex. There has to be a reason we’re watching them fuck.”

IT FOLLOWS-Underwear Mirror

Mitchell asks the question, “what happens when you have sex?” What stigmas linger after? What have you lost? What stains your soul post-coitus? What happens if you don’t have sex? Since, in his narrative, the only way to get rid of the monster, the curse, like the curse of being thought a virgin in the teen world, is to have sex with someone. Not only do you have to have sex with someone, but now that person has to have sex someone else or “the curse” comes back to you. This is a monster of spreading sexuality without any of the pleasure. It’s not about enjoying it, it’s about getting it over with.

The soundtrack and production design were both winners. The score was composed by Rich Vreeland, better known as Disasterpeace. I love the electronic score that has been playing in Adam Wingard’s movies and now Mitchell’s. It’s very cool and effective and pairs nicely with digital imagery. Electronic music, digital imagery, it’s a match!

In “It Follows”, technology is never rooted in any specific place or time. The TV sets are the old box kind with rabbit ears. There are landline telephones. The cars in the suburbs of Motor City are all outdated. Yet, one of the characters resembles a modern day hipster and is seen regularly reading from a seashell shaped, makeup compact-like e-reader that is not of this world, or maybe futuristic. The effect is that this movie is not a throwback to the 1970s/1980s anymore than it is a modern storyline. It is timeless. It is iconic.

Mitchell on production design in Filmmaker Magazine: “Those were all used to place the film a little bit outside of time, like in a dream or a nightmare, but there are elements from several decades, from the ’50s to now to things that don’t actually exist. When you watch it, you start to pick up on these elements, and it’s a little disconcerting, and in the back of your mind, you’re searching for something to ground you and tell you where you’re at. We were trying to avoid all that. I worked really closely with the production designer, and he did a great job of mixing and matching all these pieces. It leans in the direction of the ’70s and ’80s, but it’s a nice mix.”

IT FOLLOWS-Jay Pool

Mitchell is an exciting filmmaker because he seems to be going against an idea I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It’s an idea implanted in my brain by a comment Bret Easton Ellis made on one of his opinionated podcasts. He states that younger filmmakers haven’t lived life enough to make original art. To paraphrase, Ellis says younger artists choose their decisions in their movies based not on what they know about life, but rather what they’ve already seen in movies.

I’m still debating how I feel about this comment but it did get me thinking about movies that I like very much, particularly Wingard’s “You’re Next”. Going further, Wingard’s latest movie “The Guest” is an even bigger throwback to older horror movies, a blend between John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and “The Bourne Identity”. You can throw Ti West’s “House of the Devil” in this mix as well, as the only thing I liked about that movie was its 1980s look and pace.

Ellis got me thinking is nostalgia for old movies I like a reason to like new movies? I’m sure in some ways the answer is yes. But it doesn’t quell the question of where will our new horror movie come from if we spend all our time referencing older horror movies? Then again, this has worked for Quentin Tarantino.

I think Mitchell’s “It Follows” is as close as any to an original horror picture. Although I think his movie is very similar to Wingard’s style (Maika Monroe, electronic soundtrack, 1980s aesthetic), at the heart of “It Follows” is something very personal to the director. And not personal the way I think things are for Wingard, which, for kids who grew up loving movies, references to movies we love are very personal.

But Mitchell taps into something deeper than love for movies, he taps into his feelings.

He taps into his own dreams: “I had it when I was very young, the nightmare. I had it several times and I still remember images from it. I didn’t use those images for the film, but the basic idea and the feeling I used. From what I understand, it’s an anxiety dream. Whatever I was going through at that time, my parents divorced when I was around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.”

Mitchell isn’t drawing his horror elements from things he has seen in movies, (although he does know horror movies), he draws them from his own life.

The point here is that if you want to make something new and exciting, something nobody has seen before, something, I believe, like “It Follows”, then you have to break away from pastiche and get back to the roots of art, which is to express whatever you inherently know to be true, the way you know it, and the way you feel it. The way we feel Mitchell’s anxiety in “It Follows”.

Gone Fishin’: How to Catch Big Ideas in Deep Water

English: David Lynch, photographed on 10 Augus...
David Lynch, doing his signature spirit finger motion when discussing ideas floating around,photographed on 10 August 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like quotes. I have spent many hours copying and pasting quotes from artists I admire into my Evernote app for further handheld inspiration. Recently I’ve been diving head first into the work of filmmaker David Lynch. I seem to find I have some things in common with Lynch, at least I perceive so. Specifically, I hold a great deal of admiration for his imagination and his idea generating process. In many interviews, Lynch refers to ideas as fish and his extended conscious-mind as a pond where these idea-fish are swimming around, waiting to be caught. Lynch says:

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”

 

I’m not embarrassed at all to say that quotes like this send me gushing like a teenage girl at a rock concert, (or a Justin Bieber/Taylor Swift festival. Is that what teen girls gush over now?)

Lynch’s rationale that we all have great ideas swimming around in our subconscious, waiting to be found and explored, is enlightening and liberating. He admits to not knowing the best way or even if there is a way of locating these ideas and bringing them to the surface. They just kind of come, sometimes when you least expect it, and you have to be ready for them. A forgotten idea can drive an artist mad, so keep your pen and paper (or trusty Evernote app) handy.

This journey into the “deep water” of one’s soul is not necessarily a Lynch original. I can recall a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” I love that quote. Writers must pain themselves and even torture their souls in order to squeeze the pulpy prose from their juicy brains. Good writing is about feeling something on a very deep level and having the courage to push forward, through the emotion and onto the page.

Even before reading this Fitzgerald quote, my first encounter with the term “deep water” came in a creative writing class where I met my current hero and greatest teacher, poet Christopher Bursk. Chris, whom would be agitated to be referred to by his last name in this post or in the classroom, spoke regularly about the importance of paddling out into deep water in order to write beautifully. Our assignments were often exercises in swimming in deep water; write a poem about something you regret, write about a person you would benefit from being dead, or the self-indulging, soul scrutinizing personal “Song of Myself” that we’d have to write and share in front of the class.

The greatest advice from Chris on writing about deep water was a story he’d tell us about taking his son to swimming lessons. The swimming instructor said the best technique for swimming out of deep waters and to the shore was the dead man’s float; where you put your head under and trust the water to keep you afloat as you paddle forward.

This is of course true for writing. Much like Fitzgerald’s quote, sometimes you have to trust that the pain or longing of the deep water will keep you afloat and just start paddling, start putting the words on the page, and eventually you’ll make it ashore.

These quotes and this advice have helped me channel emotions into some of my best writing. It’s a constant struggle though but I’m content with battling every day. It’s a compulsion to want to strike out every day in hopes of getting that good idea, catching that big fish.

I was thinking of myself, Lynch’s quote, and came up with an analogy. If you’re ever uncertain of why you can’t come up with a good idea, look at the process as you would look at fishing. When you go out fishing, they don’t always bite. Fishing is all about patience. Staring at your rod or checking your hook constantly won’t make the fish come any quicker. Sometimes you just have to lie back and let your thoughts drift when all the sudden you see your line bob and you scurry to your pole, your pen and paper, and start reeling the fish in.

Some people are better at coming up with ideas than others, just like there are master fisherman in the world. In this regard, I think I’d say I’m a talented idea fisherman. I get ideas, sometimes several ideas, every day and I try to be a work horse in order to get them all into a project, down on paper. For the analogy’s sake, I’m good at getting fish to take the bait. But I will say that I have trouble catching the big fish. I’m young and still learning to explore myself and be honest with my emotions.

If I do manage to hook a big fish, a great idea, I often find I have trouble reeling it in and getting it onto the boat. Or worse, sometimes when I do get these big fish onto the boat, adapted into a story or script concept, my ship sinks before I land safely ashore. Sometimes my emotional state implodes unexpectedly and my ship, my safety, submerges with all the ideas and ambition onboard.

So what’s left when I hit the water, away from the safety of the vessel? Usually I panic and suck in a lot of water. But then I remember the wisdom of my heroes, I put my head under the current and start paddling towards land. And sometimes I’ll find I’ve carried one of those big fish along with me as I step onto the sand.

Paul Thomas Anderson: The Master of American Cinema

 

(Minor spoiler at the end.)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth feature film The Master is being hailed as a new American classic by many critics. This is not the first time the words “American classic” have been paired together in regards to Anderson’s work. Five years ago critics were saying the same thing about There Will Be Blood, Anderson’s loose adaption of the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

It has become evident with Anderson’s last two films; both period pieces, both providing comments on the American man’s greed and fragmented mental state, both featuring an indisputably captivating performance by lead actors (Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix), and each a standing symbol of patient filmmaking, that this writer-director has carved his place amongst not only the great filmmakers of his time but in all of American cinema.

Anderson may be best known for the 1997 picture Boogie Nights but it is clear that his ability and style transcends grandiose subject matter like the pornography industry, drug abuse, and violence (all of which are highly entertaining and showcased well in the film).

The 1999 film Magnolia really marked the day Hollywood handed Paul Thomas Anderson the key to the city; the freedom to make any film he desired and he pushed that sports car to the limit, crashed through the barricade and left the audience to watch as it engulfed in flames.

Since then Anderson has shown great versatility in his characters, storylines, and casting decisions; particularly when he showed the world that notorious goofball Adam Sandler had some serious acting chops in the one of a kind art house flick, Punch-Drunk Love.

But it was There Will Be Blood that marked a more distinct change in his filmmaking choices. This was a different film. It was slow, calculated, and mostly subdued except for a few casualties in the oil fields and bowling alleys.

The Master follows a very similar pattern. Phoenix’s portrayal of a post-WWII unhinged and impressionable drunk is a good rival for Day-Lewis’ greed-driven oil tycoon. In this film, Anderson again looks at Man with an unflinching eye. He does not cut to the most entertaining or high octane moments of a man’s life but instead zeroes in on the subtle, defining moments of a man’s character.

Anderson asks the questions of life that everyone finds themselves asking at one time. Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell, seeks someone with all the answers and believes he finds it in Lancaster Dodd, as played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Film has the inherent problem of relying on an ending; some viable closure for the story that just never happens in real life. Life keeps going. The sun always rises again even after the credits roll on a particular chapter of our lives. Anderson closes this film’s unanswerable questions beautifully.

With all its ambiguity, Freddie Quell leaves the audience with the assurance and self-actualization that there are no masters in this world but instead people, knowledgeable of personal flaws and understanding of the ability to control when necessary.

 

6 Pairs of Movie Stars I Get Confused

There are a lot of celebrities out there to keep track of. Sometimes I just get certain celebrities mixed up with others on a routine basis. The gods behind the Internet Movie Database help me clear these errors up but sometimes I still find myself fumbling for the appropriate actor or actress when watching a trailer or commenting to friends.

I know that some of these picks will leave you scratching your head and wondering what kind of fool I am for making such ridiculous errors. Please, don’t murder me in my sleep.

1. Amy Adams and Isla Fisher

I love both of these women. I enjoy their movies, I think they’re both very talented actresses, I get excited when I see them in trailers, and for the longest time I didn’t know which one I was getting excited for. My biggest goof was seeing Amy Adams’ wonderful performance alongside Meryl Streep in Doubt and thinking, “hey that’s that girl I love in Hot Rod! Man, she has such range as an actress!”

This can be forgiven, I think. I mean they really do have a striking resemblance to each other. Nowadays I avoid mixing these two beauties up by remembering that the Scottish darling Isla Fisher is the funny actress in Hot Rod and Wedding Crashers who is married to comic genius Sacha Baron Cohen while Amy Adams is the dramatic actress extraordinaire I love from The Fighter and Doubt.

Although, they’ve recently thrown me a curveball by swapping genres with Adams in The Muppets and Fisher in The Great Gatsby. Those rascals.

2. Dennis Hopper and Dustin Hoffman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two outstanding actors with one major thing in common: talent. I really do apologize for mixing two mesmerizing actors like them up, but I certainly have. I do so mostly when citing their names in conversation. It’s my borderline dyslexia I imagine that jumbles the two “D” first names up.

I distinguish the two more easily these days after having seen Hoffman’s beautiful performance as Ratso (“I’m walkin here!”) in Midnight Cowboy and knowing him from Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. And as for Mr. Hopper, God rest his beautiful soul, I’ll always remember him as Frank Booth from Blue Velvet or for his cool-defining moment opposite Christopher Walken in True Romance.

3. Jeff Bridges and Jeff Daniels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, I think it’s the similar sounding names that gets me every time. Although it’s interesting to note they have similar acting careers in my opinion and they do look similar to each other. Maybe it’s the hair. Each is very talented dramatic actors who have a wonderful knack for comedy. Jeff Daniels will always go down as one half of my favorite comedy Dumb and Dumber while making news these days on HBO’s The Newsroom. Jeff Bridges is forever stored in my memory bank as none other than “The Dude” Jeffery Lebowksi in addition to his many great roles including his Oscar winning performance in Crazy Heart.

4. Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve brought this mismatch up to people before and they always look at me like I’m crazy for confusing the two but years ago I always thought they looked similar and were in the same types of chick flicks my mom loved to watch, like Hope Floats. I’ve since gotten over this mix up by remembering that Sandra Bullock is the one I don’t hate. I feel particularly bad for this confusion for Ms. Bullock because I really don’t mind her but I don’t care for Roberts at all. I’m not saying she’s a bad actress; she has an impressive career. I’ve just never enjoyed her performance in any movie. Bullock on the other hand is always entertaining and quirky to me.

5. Ethan Hawke and Edward Norton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used to crack my friends up, saying how I’d be all excited to watch a movie, I’d have my ticket and be sitting in the theatre waiting for it to start, and then I’d suddenly get real disappointed and say, “oh wait that’s not Edward Norton.”

Nothing against Ethan Hawke, I love Training Day and think he’s a solid actor but he hasn’t been in half as many movies that I love as Edward Norton has. Norton has a list of classic performances including American History X, Fight Club (which I’m not a major fan of but I know people love him in this), and most recently his gloriously humorous role in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

6. Michael Douglas and Martin Sheen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll admit that this is a little silly of me to get confused but there must be something about older actors that gets my thoughts all jumbled up. In reality, there’s not a whole lot I should be confusing with Emilio’s dad and Mr. Catherine Zeta-Jones but I do from time to time. Out of the two, Martin Sheen curries favor because I like more of his movies, in particular The Departed and the saga Apocalypse Now. He’s also the seed behind the spawn that is the ever-winning Charlie Sheen and The Breakfast Clubber Emilio Estevez. Thank you for all your contributions to the world, Mr. Sheen.

“You’re welcome.”

6 Directing Tips from Actors

Recently I watched a video on YouTube which asks the question any aspiring/working director should want to know from an actor: what do you want from a director?

I’ve done a lot of research on directing since I started filming my own short screenplays a few years back and what fascinates me most is how to inspire actors. I love crafting beautiful shots and making a visually pleasing film but what I believe a director should focus on more than anything is the performance.

So when I research directing I hold a heavy bias on reading about how to direct actors and what actors want from a director to make their performance powerful. The video above asks twenty-one accomplished actors what they want from a director and here is a summary of what they want to see:

1. Clarity

I put this at number one because several of the actors brought this trait up so it’s worth paying extra attention to. In the video, Meryl Streep mentions that she wants a director to be clear with his direction, even if he is uncertain of what he wants to see. This is powerful advice from arguably the greatest actress in the business today because what I’ve found directing on set is that I don’t always have the answers. Sometimes I’ll watch a take and just know it’s not right but am not certain of how to make it better. Streep is saying that this is ok and a director should just vocalize he wants to see something else but he’s not sure what it is. The result could surprise both the actor and director and get the perfect take of a performance.

Rebecca Hall goes on to say that a director should have “a clear way of saying something that evokes a creative emotion.” Directing requires tricky use of language. There will be times when you know exactly what you want from an actor but vocalizing it could leave the actor dumbfounded. Communicating your direction is one of the hardest parts of the game. You must do so by being distinct, precise, simple, and clear with what you want to see yet you must say so in a way that can draw a creative response from the actor.

This is why a director should never recite a line the way he thinks it should be read. This only leads to an actor trying to robot-mimic your dialect. This is very non-creative and will leave you with stale delivery. Give tips on what emotion to evoke and they might recite a line better than you imagined.

2. Trust

One of the bonds I always want between me and an actor is unwavering trust. If an actor doesn’t trust their director, they begin to direct themselves and wonder how they’re expressions look on film or how their lines sound. This stifles their creativity and prohibits them from letting loose and living in the moment which is imperative to unique performances. Let the actor know they can trust your opinion and that you will not allow them to look bad.

Unusually an actor is a stranger at first. Trust takes time to accrue. Time to build a relationship is almost never available before filming. Never fear, Paul Giamatti claims that he will always trust a director from the get go. He respects that they are a professional and are good at their job so he trusts them outright until he is given a reason not to. Do NOT give an actor a reason not to trust you. A director and an actor are in a relationship. Remember that. Just because the relationship only lasts the duration of the project doesn’t mean you should treat it with any less respect than you do your relationship with your parent, spouse, or best friend. You do not want to hurt the bond or demean the relationship under any circumstances.

3. Passion

If you don’t have passion for a project you’re working on, you either need to immediately remove yourself from that project or seriously reconsider your career choice. Directing is a tough job and it literally demands your full commitment and enthusiasm to complete the 12+ hour days while overseeing the entire project, managing performances, accruing research, and every other painstaking task required to turn a script into a film.

Natalie Portman is possibly my favorite actress so I was delighted to see her in the video even though I was disappointed her clip was relatively small. But she made a good point that the audience is seeing the film through the director’s eyes so it is imperative that the director be an active character in the story. This means the director needs a full commitment to the project.

Actress Elena Anaya stunned me when she mentioned that actors can get very “lonely” when they feel it is their job to boost the film if the director is not taking the time to progress the story or explain the events properly. She believes passion lies in the director’s ability to unfold the story for the audience. A wonderful point made.

4. Collaboration

A film production is quite possibly one of the most beautiful examples of humans working together and intertwining talents in order to achieve a mutual conclusion: a final cut of a film. Collaboration is an almost obvious trait between director and actor. Rosamund Pike mentions that a character is created by three people: writer, director, and actor. Collaboration is needed from all three to give birth to a memorable character.

Jeremy Renner hammers in a tip I’ve read constantly that a director should never have an idea for the story or character set in stone. He should have many ideas and be flexible to changing those ideas on the spot if a better idea comes into play. Staying open leaves avenues to freshness and uniqueness. Never tell an actor every little thing he should do in a scene. It’s their job to fill in the blanks. “Give me parameters, don’t micromanage” said Renner. In regards to collaboration, Laurence Fishburne said “step back and allow me to swing.”

This video surprised me in a sense because some actors weren’t huge fans of collaboration. Willem Dafoe said he likes collaboration but over the years he’s realized he likes coming to a director’s vision of the character even more. He said, “going towards something that isn’t mine, there’s a process that fuels what you’re doing.”

Rosamund Pike believes that she is chosen for a part because the director picked her as the person to play his vision of a role so it’s her job to become that vision. “If you really trust a director, you trust his vision,” she said.

5. Courage

Noomi Rapace, star of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo franchise mentions that she wants “courage” in a director.

“The worst thing a director can be is cowardly and tasteless,” said actor Oliver Isaac.

Directors cannot afford to be timid. They’re operating on time restraints, budget restraints, and all the pressure in the world while still trying to be creative and achieve their vision. This makes courage and boldness a job requirement. You need to be able to tell actors, who are very strong willed people also by necessity, that they are doing something wrong. You need to stand up to producers and studio heads at times to ensure your vision is not being skewed beyond recognition. It can be a very scary and disheartening position to be in.

6. Efficiency

I think one of the best bits of advice comes at the very end of the video from Morgan Freeman in regards to working with director Clint Eastwood. Freeman mentions that he believes Eastwood is one of the best directors in the business because he is quick and he isn’t wasteful. Freeman expresses displeasure with a director that does 17-18 takes.

“What’s wrong?” Freeman asks. “If there’s something wrong with the camera, fix it. If there’s something wrong with my performance, tell me. Don’t just keep saying ‘let’s do it again.’”

I’ve been on sets were directors trademark phrase is “let’s do it again” and I think I get more annoyed than the actors. I always read that a director should mention some kind of feedback after every take. This is the logical way to get the least amount of takes before the desired performance is captured.

As mentioned before, filmmaking comes with many time and financial restraints. Always be as efficient as possible and try to not waste anything. Don’t waste people’s time, don’t waste money, don’t waste film, don’t waste daylight, don’t waste your breath, don’t waste anything. By doing so you’ll find that you’re a director many people will want to work with, including actors because they felt their time was used wisely, producers because they felt their money was put in the right places, and crew members because they see that you’re a director that knows what he’s doing and is on top of the ball.

Do as much prep work as possible on shot lists and scene analysis before shooting. Get rehearsal dates in if possible; whatever it takes to make the actual filming go as smoothly as possible.